Clashes erupt in Belfast as marching season heats up

Nationalist protesters throw fireworks at police before Protestant parade
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The Independent Online

A number of police officers were injured in scattered incidents in various parts of Northern Ireland yesterday as tensions rose in the wake of traditional Orange celebrations.

None of them was seriously injured in the incidents, although in disturbances involving nationalists in the Ardoyne district of north Belfast, at least one shot was fired at police.

Missiles including petrol bombs, fireworks, stones and bottles were thrown, while a van was hijacked and pushed at police lines at the traditional flashpoint, where loyalist marchers and bands were due to pass close to a Catholic area. Riot police responded by firing more than a dozen plastic baton rounds and by hosing the area with a water cannon. Three officers were injured in the area, which almost invariably witnesses trouble during the Orange marching season.

Separately, children were discovered playing with a rifle in the area and the firearm was handed in to police.

Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay said: "It is very disappointing that there were a minority of people who showed total disregard for local communities. They displayed the worst possible face of Northern Ireland – a face of bigotry, sectarianism and intolerance that is not representative of the vast majority of people who have moved on and embraced a peaceful future."

In north Antrim, meanwhile, three members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland were slightly hurt when bricks and stones were thrown by nationalist youths in the village of Rasharkin. Petrol bombs were also thrown as a parade made its way through the area. On Sunday a petrol bomb was thrown at an Orange hall but failed to ignite.

Yesterday a local Protestant, Chris McCaughan, said he had suffered 10 years of sectarian intimidation, with attacks at the weekend in which a window was broken and car tyres slashed.

He said: "My wife is devastated. My wife, this last few months, has been absolutely tortured. Her car's been pelted with eggs and she's been given a lot of verbal abuse. I'm not blaming the Catholic community for this. I'm blaming the republican element who are prepared to stop at nothing to try to get rid of whatever Protestant community there is left in this village. A lot of my own family have had to move out because of sectarianism."

Sinn Fein said that those responsible "are not republicans, they're hoods". A party spokesman said: "We've been inundated with complaints from across the community, both Catholic and Protestant, who've had their cars vandalised. We need to ensure these people are brought to book for this anti-social behaviour."

Referrring to the incidents, the leader of the Orange Order, Grand Master Robert Saulters, said Protestants in Northern Ireland are "into a situation of ethnic cleansing".

In other incidents, an explosion in Armagh caused no injuries but was said by an Orange Order spokesman to have been aimed at a local parade. He added: "This was an extremely disturbing development. The bomb was clearly left there either to kill or cause maximum disruption." Rioting broke out after the incident with several cars set alight and petrol bombs thrown. Four arrests were made.

In Londonderry meanwhile, a policeman was injured during disturbances. There were minor clashes in the Diamond area of the city and a separate incident at Butcher's Gate.

The various outbreaks of violence and disorder were seen as relatively minor. But they are seen by the authorities as disappointing at a time when considerable efforts are being made to brighten Northern Ireland's image.